Ex-Dodgers Turner, Verdugo lift Red Sox to chaotic 8-5 victory over LA


Winning the breakup is a big part of baseball; when given the chance, make your former team regret letting you go.

That’s exactly what Alex Verdugo and Justin Turner did on Saturday, lifting the Red Sox to a 8-5 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.

Since Day 1, Verdugo has wanted to be more than the guy from the Mookie Betts trade.

While trades are a part of this business, it’s still quite an unfair position, finding oneself dealt to one of the game’s most historic franchises in exchange for one of its most decorated homegrown stars. The pile of money Harry Frazee received from the New York Yankees in exchange for Babe Ruth never had to face repeated questions and commentary about the transaction, but Verdugo has been dissected, discussed, and compared to Betts ever since.

So when the two finally got to square off at Fenway Park this weekend, the spotlight got even brighter. Especially since both were in the leadoff spot on Friday and Saturday and starting in right field in the second game.

On sunny Saturday afternoon, Betts began the contest in bittersweetly-familiar fashion. He led off with a double high off the Green Monster, and scored the first run of the contest on Amed Rosario’s single.

Verdugo was not to be outdone. When his turn came in the bottom of the first, he sent the second pitch he saw from Dodgers starter Julio Urias 380 feet, over Betts’ head, and into the bullpen.

For the third consecutive game, he’d hit a leadoff homer.

Throughout franchise history, six Red Sox leadoff hitters have homered in three consecutive games, including Betts, who is the only player with two such streaks (both during the 2018 season). But unlike the other five, Verdugo is the only one whose home runs were all leading off the game. He’s only the third MLB player to ever achieve this feat, joining Ronald Acuña Jr. (2018 Braves) and Brady Anderson (1996 Orioles), who did so in four consecutive games.

“It’s cool,” Verdugo said. “Especially for me, I’m not a home-run hitter, so to kind of see that, and to know that is pretty cool… Had a good little stretch right there in the leadoff spot.”

“He’s been setting the tempo from the get-go these last three days,” Alex Cora lauded. “He’s in a good spot right now.”

Verdugo’s 12th home run of the year means he’s officially surpassed last year’s totals, and 35 games faster, at that. He’s tied the second-highest season total of his career, and has 32 games left to hit his 13th, which would tie the career-high he set in 2021.

“Really, for me, it’s just calming myself down, not trying to do to much, just get a good pitch to hit,” Verdugo explained.

Initially, the right-fielder wasn’t sure he’d even be in Saturday’s lineup, let alone in the leadoff spot.

“I was surprised to lead off,” he admitted. “I expected to be in there, and I told (Cora), ‘I want to be in there,’ but I just didn’t know where he was gonna go with the lineup.

“Once I saw that I was leading off, man, it just fires me up. It fires me up!”

Turner’s circumstances were slightly different. The Dodgers declined his club option last offseason, but the two sides kept negotiated for over a month. Then, they signed J.D. Martinez, effectively slamming the door on a reunion with Turner, who hit .296 with a .865 OPS over nine years in Los Angeles, helping the Dodgers to the postseason every year, and winning a ring there in 2020.

“I’m happy we got J.D.,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters on Friday, “Certainly sad to lose Justin.”

Probably even sadder on Saturday, when Turner went 3-for-4 with a home run, two runs scored, and two RBI. He’s the seventh player in franchise history to drive in at least 84 RBI in a season at the age of 38 or older, an elite group that includes David Ortiz, Carl Yastrzemski, and Ted Williams.

Back at first base after spending the bulk of recent weeks as the designated hitter to limit stress on his injured heel, Turner also helped his team shut down their own ex. When Betts came up to bat for the third time, five of his teammates had already come to the plate and put another run on the board. Batting with two on and two out in the top of the fourth, he launched a wicked grounder towards the hole between second and third.

Rafael Devers launched himself at the ball, tumbling to the ground. He bobbled it, then threw hard to first base, where Turner grabbed it just in time to make the tag. After a review, the umpires upheld the call.

The player the Red Sox chose to pay had outdone the player they didn’t.

“For his struggles, quote-unquote, he can play like that,” Cora lauded. “Right now, he’s in a good spot defensively… To throw out Mookie in that situation, that was huge. That was huge.”

The final score belies how much of a battle this was from the get-go. Each side collected 10 hits, and the Dodgers drew eight walks. LA went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position, stranding 14 men on base; the Red Sox were 4-for-13 RISP, only stranding five. Both teams’ starters were charged with at least four earned runs, and James Paxton issued a season-high five walks, something he had only done five times in his career and not since 2019.

Adam Duvall made the difference, sending Dodgers starter Julio Urías on his way with a 6th-inning 3-run homer for Boston’s first lead of the day. His 15th home run of the season was also his fourth in his last six games.

Verdugo sees him as one of the team’s “RBI guys.”

“He’s big for us, man,” he said appreciatively. “He’s somebody who can hit righties and lefties, and obviously, play great defense. He just, he’s a guy who seems, when there’s runners on, man, he knows how to get ’em in.”

Saturday was a seemingly endless stream of chaos, including Max Muncy and Dodgers manager (and 2004 hero) Dave Roberts getting ejected at the end of the top of the eighth inning for arguing the home-plate umpire’s Strike 3 call, a Chris Martin pitch somewhat below the zone. The following inning, Bryan Hudson took over for the Dodgers and began the frame by hitting Devers in the wrist.

The contest only got harder as the game progressed.

“From the sixth inning on, every pitch mattered,” the Red Sox manager said. “We kept playing, which is the most important thing.”

The top of the sixth was also when things took a turn into unfamiliar and peculiar territory. Pablo Reyes leaving the game with what was later announced as “left-elbow pain” forced the Red Sox manager got creative.

“He was in a lot of pain,” Cora said as he discussed the unorthodox maneuvering. He put Reese McGuire into the game as catcher, and moved Connor Wong, who’d started behind the dish, to second base. Luis Urías moved from second to third, and Devers moved from third to shortstop, where he had exactly one game of experience at the position, back in 2019.

“We feel comfortable with (Urías) at third,” he explained. “For the moment, we felt that was the best alignment.” An inning later, he played defensive musical chairs once again, sending Wong back to the backstop, Devers to third again, and Urías resumed second-base duties.

The game began in chaos, and chaotic it stayed to the very end. With Kenley Jansen still resting his hamstring, Cora sent John Schreiber to the mound for the top of the ninth. He’d finished 13 games and earned eight saves in 2022, but only entered one game in a save situation this year: last weekend in the Bronx, when he’d been charged with a blown save in the seventh inning.

The 29-year-old right-hander got the first two outs, but also loaded the bases. As if scripted by Hollywood, Betts would hit with the game on the line at his old ballpark.

As he’d done so many times over the years, the superstar helped the Red Sox win a ballgame, though this time, not on purpose. He flew out on the second pitch, sending a ball 383 feet into Adam Duvall’s glove.

“We’re producers not directors,” Betts told reporters after the loss. “Produced a good swing. Can’t direct where it goes.”

The Red Sox are in the midst of an exhausting stretch. Their last day off was August 14, and they won’t have another until the 31st. Saturday was Game No. 12 of this 16-day marathon, and the last 10 games of the month are all against the Houston Astros and Dodgers.

“We’re gonna play games like this the rest of the way,” Cora said. “This is a tough stretch.”

“We’re considering this as like playoff baseball,” Verdugo said. “Every game matters right now… We know we got some games to catch up on… Every game is a must-win. We just gotta handle our business.”

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